Judge steps down from Palace of Justice siege case

A Bogota judge has departed from the case against five former military officers for alleged forced disappearances committed in the 1985 siege on the Palace of Justice.

Judge Maria Cristina Trejos stepped down from the case against former officers from the B-2 intelligence unit of the army’s 13th Brigade, who are accused of forced disappearances, reasoning that her recent conviction and sentencing of retired General Jesus Armando Arias Cabrales for similar crimes would impede a decision in this case.

General Arias Cabrales was handed the longest sentence thus far against a military official involved in the palace’s siege; receiving 35 years in prison for the forced disappearance of 11 people, including an assistant judge. President Juan Manuel Santos called the decision “unjust.”

Jorge Molano, a lawyer in the case against the five army officers, said this is a normal procedure and within two to three weeks the case will be taken up by the 55th Judge of the Penal Circuit.

Colonel Edilberto Sanchez and his subordinates, Oscar William Vasquez, Antonio Rubay Jimenez Gomez, Luis Fernando Nieto Velandia and Ferney Martin Causalla Peña are being tried for forced disappearances during the siege.

Bogota’s Palace of Justice, seat of Colombia’s Supreme Court, was taken over by M-19 guerrillas on November 6, 1985. Judges, staff, and members of the public were taken hostage. More than 100 people died during the military’s re-taking of the building, including 11 judges, and the army has been accused of torturing and murdering 11 civilians who disappeared after being rescued from the palace.

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